Round the Island on RelaX

(by Mike Poppleton – originally published in the July 2021 newsletter)

The RTI RelaX crew in good spirits – Jane Jowett, Nick Ormrod, Lou Buggy, Laurent Morlet (S), Niall Buggy and Mike Poppleton (camera)

Round the Island – 3rd July 2021 – my first yacht race! I felt a bit daunted as the day approached – it’s a long way, a 50 mile course round the Isle of Wight, with over 1000 boats reliant on good wind and keeping up with friendly tides. Yet after a slow start in the morning mist we had mostly F3-4 SW, and well-chosen tides meant we were always making good way.

Laurent Morlet as skipper had the motley crew of Jane Jowett, Nick Ormrod, Lou and Niall Buggy, and me (probably the most motley as a novice racer!) We started the weekend midday Friday by hoisting the big black racing genoa – I have no idea how you’d do this without the extensive pontoon area we have at Haslar. After lunch we sailed to Cowes, using the trip as a training session on the asymmetric spinnaker. Nick volunteered as bowman in haste – perhaps repenting at the less than leisurely business of doing the rigging and hoisting on a bouncing bow.

The Cowes approach was strangely quiet, far fewer boats out than we’d expected. We soon realised they were all in already, rafted 5 or 6 deep. People were out chatting and drinking in the cockpits; a good atmosphere welcomed us at the pontoon. The bright evening and decent forecast suggested a lively race ahead. Niall debuted the great meals he would prepare for us with a pasta carbonara – excellent for this pescatarian, even without the pancetta everyone else had!

A bleary 5am start and some manoeuvring to get out of the raft (we were 4 out of 5 deep) were powered by bacon and egg butties on the go from Niall. Tension mounted to the 0630 start – the off being a bit anticlimactic for complete lack of wind. But the mist and low cloud – which persisted all morning – started us in a good atmosphere, especially when the wind picked up in the West Solent. The cliffs of Alum Bay and then Tennyson Down disappearing mysteriously up into the low heavy cloud cover gave an air of mystery to things.

Laurent showed his first tactics on the way to the Needles on short N-to-S starboard tacks across the SW wind, forcing oncoming port-tack vessels to give way. At one point there were cries of “Don’t look, Mike!” Round the Needles was spinnaker time, so Nick as bowman got it up – impressively and without complaint about the heaving bow. A sobering moment near St. Catherine’s Point, where we saw three tenders pulling at a grounded boat. Spinnakers flying – and some collapsing morosely – from the Needles through Seaview made some great sights. After we furled away our spinnaker near Seaview, we had a view during lunch of how the 0.1% live as we passed all 113m of superyacht Le Grand Bleu.

The final stretch was one long reach, fully powered and amazingly heeled and close to wind: we came in 231st out of 960 finishers. A great experience in great Phoenix company! We learnt to optimise familiar techniques and practice new ones (ie spinnaker). I want to do more of this racing, if they’ll have me.
And … we need more racers …

Mike Poppleton

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